Always Looking

I got an Email from one of my subscribers – (s)he will remain anonymous – who asked me, “is it illegal for an employer to fire you for searching for another job?” It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question. And it’s good enough to warrant a response via blog post. So here goes…

I got bad news for you. It’s pretty much legal for employers to fire you for pretty much any reason they want – as long it’s not in violation of any of the protections you’re granted by the United States Constitution, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor (DOL), or any other employment related statute, law, or regulation. And while there are plenty of them, neither are easy to substantiate nor are they worthy of your time, efforts, and headaches to do so.

Of course your employer can fire you for looking for another job. And I would too if you did it on company time. But if they simply came across your resume posted on a job board, then I’d say they were jackasses for doing so. Do you have a contract with them that guarantees your employ? Unless you’re an NBA or NFL star, I’m guessing not. How presumptuously one-sided of them. Oh they just think you’re beholden to them? What about them to you?

This actually happened to me once. My (former) employer came to me, locked me in a room, put a naked light bulb in my face, and interrogated, “what’s your resume doing on Monster? Are you looking for a job?” I casually sat back, laced my fingers behind my head, and responded, “Listen  up: I’m always looking for a job. I’m a free agent, yo. And I’m willing to take my talents to whomever gives me the best looking gig. Right now that happens to be you. But tomorrow, it could very easily be someone else. Loyal? About as much as you are to me. And that’s really as far as it goes. Now, if you’ll turn out that light and unlock the door, I’ll be moving on back to my office where you’re paying me to be.”

Not every employer would take kindly to this kind of swagger so I’m certainly not suggesting you lay it down. But the point is relevant none the less. You should always be looking for a job. Always. You don’t have to put your heart and soul into it. But you should have your ear to the ground. Announce your free-agency – entice those who may be looking for someone like you. It’s that kind of activity that keeps the talent market alive and well. And it’s knowing that you’re out there that hopefully causes your employer to do everything they can to keep you engaged, challenged, motivated, rewarded, and coming back for more day after day.

Image Credit:  Tobias Leeger

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  • KellyOlsakovsky

    I’m actually dealing with this right now; I was trying to keep my job search on the down-low and apparently someone in the “upper management team” overheard a conversation I had in a conference room (with the door closed, mind you, but he was in the empty office next to it.) Now I’m unofficially on notice. Double secret probation if you will.

    I know this is an at-will employment issue and they can let me go for any time, for any reason. It just really stinks to know that because I want something better after 2.5 years, I’m suddenly not valuable. Add to that a tough job market, and you have a recipe for all kinds of stress.

    I wish we could be more adult about it – people change, relationships change, needs change. I’ve rolled with all the changes thrown at me, and the only way I’m going to really improve my situation is to move. If we could all accept that and just carry on, it would be a lot easier on us all.

  • hrfishbowl

    Wow. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with it right now. And it’s probably validation that you should be looking. Keep your head up, play nice, don’t burn any bridges, and walk away with dignity.

    Love the comment about change and rolling with it for your employer; they should in fact be willing and able to do the same for you!

  • Been there, done that

    This actually happened to me once upon a time. The company I worked for was sold and I didn’t like the direction the new owners were taking the HR function. So, I went looking for a better fit. My direct supervisor found out and escorted me out the door for being unloyal. I have to say it was one of the best things that ever happened to my career! Not only did I land a MUCH better gig with my next role but heard through the grapevine how that former employer basically imploded over the 12-18 months after I left. Karma can be a bitch!

  • Melissa Fairman

    Charlie, Great post and important information to get out there. Not a lot of people realize they can be fired for anything outside of the legal & regulatory issues you sited above.

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